CrossFit improves how people with type 2 diabetes can control blood sugar levels

May 16, 2018, The Physiological Society
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

New research published in Experimental Physiology has suggested a 6-week CrossFit exercise programme can lead to improved control of blood sugar levels and decreased risk of heart disease in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood level to become too high. Type 2 is the most common form, which is where the body doesn't produce enough of the hormone that controls sugar levels, called insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes are at significantly higher risk of . A primary focus for managing diabetes is exercise, as it has been shown to improve the body's ability to control sugar levels by making the body more sensitive to the insulin produced.

However, adherence to exercise advice is particularly low amongst those with Type 2 diabetes, who are mostly overweight or obese, with lack of time being cited as one of the greatest barriers to regular exercise. This new research suggests that a high intensity exercise programme such as CrossFit improves the ability of the body to control by reducing the amount of insulin required. Importantly, these improvements appear to be similar to the sort of change we would expect from more traditional exercise interventions, despite participants spending considerably less time exercising than health guidelines recommend. CrossFit therefore offers a time-effective exercise approach for people with Type 2 diabetes who struggle to maintain daily exercise.

CrossFit is a high intensity training intervention incorporating both endurance and strength training. Sessions range from 8-20 minutes in duration and represent a far more time-effective form of exercise than traditional exercise interventions. CrossFit has been growing in popularity over the past decade, although until now it was not clear whether such forms of exercise would improve the ability of individuals with Type 2 diabetes to control their sugar levels.

For this research, thirteen overweight/obese patients with Type 2 diabetes were recruited to participate in a 6-week CrossFit exercise programme. Participants' blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (an individual's ability to reduce high blood sugar levels effectively) were assessed both before and after the exercise programme, in addition to their blood chemistries and blood pressure, which were tested to predict heart disease risk. The post-exercise intervention test results showed significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and heart disease risk factors. Importantly, these improvements appeared to be similar to the sort of changes expected from more traditional exercise interventions, despite participants spending considerably less time exercising than such guidelines recommend.

The limitations of this study are that it tested a relatively small number of patients, the duration of the intervention was short, and the subject population was relatively young. As such, caution should be applied when extending these results, especially to more elderly patients with Type 2 diabetes. However, the results pave the way for larger studies to assess the efficacy, feasibility and durability of this study's approach. Such studies might need to take more definitive measures of insulin resistance, which would require sophisticated clinical approaches that include infusion of glucose and .

Professor John Kirwan, co-author of the paper, shared a story about one participant's involvement in the intervention which had particularly surprised him:

"One lady started the intervention clearly motivated, and ended it quite exhilarated by the experience. The had a surprisingly large effect on her fasting sugar, which fell from 250 mg/dL to around 90 mg/dL (normal range) - effectively remission of her diabetes! She has since continued with CrossFit, and we hope it will serve her well into the future. Whilst an outlier, such an example provides promise to those who may be pessimistic about the possibilities of these types of interventions."

Explore further: Exercises for chronic health conditions

More information: Ciarán E Fealy et al, Functional high intensity exercise training ameliorates insulin resistance and cardiometabolic risk factors in type 2 diabetes, Experimental Physiology (2018). DOI: 10.1113/EP086844

Related Stories

Exercises for chronic health conditions

May 10, 2018
(HealthDay)—Exercise can help prevent many chronic illnesses as well as make it easier to manage health conditions, from diabetes to joint pain.

Resistance exercise improves insulin resistance, glucose levels

April 4, 2018
A new study suggests that resistance exercise may improve indicators of type 2 diabetes by increasing expression of a protein that regulates blood sugar (glucose) absorption in the body. The paper, published ahead of print ...

Exercising safely with diabetes

July 7, 2017
(HealthDay)—Exercise is a powerful tool for managing diabetes.

Short, high-intensity exercise sessions improve insulin production in type 2 diabetes

June 2, 2017
A new study finds that short, functional-movement and resistance training workouts, called functional high-intensity training (F-HIT), may improve beta-cell function in adults with type 2 diabetes. Beta cells in the pancreas ...

High-intensity interval training helps combat high insulin resistance—a warning sign for diabetes

August 16, 2017
A new study published in Frontiers in Physiology suggests that High-Intensity Interval Training is an efficient, effective way of cutting people's risk of developing type-2 diabetes, regardless of their levels of insulin ...

What is pre-diabetes?

December 3, 2015
According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 86 million Americans age 20 and older have pre-diabetes. "If you've been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, it means your blood sugar levels are not high enough to be ...

Recommended for you

Fat tissue may play a crucial role in the progression of diabetes, challenging long established notions

October 12, 2018
A new study by Australian researchers, out today, is challenging what we know about the causes of diabetes. The new research points to fat tissue as a source of disease, and widens our understanding beyond the traditional ...

Does breastfeeding hormone protect against type 2 diabetes?

October 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—The hormone prolactin—most commonly associated with breastfeeding—may play a role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, a new study suggests.

Planned intermittent fasting may help reverse type 2 diabetes, suggest doctors

October 10, 2018
Planned intermittent fasting may help to reverse type 2 diabetes, suggest doctors writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports after three patients in their care, who did this, were able to cut out the need for insulin treatment ...

Markers of dairy fat consumption linked to lower risk of type two diabetes

October 10, 2018
Higher levels of biomarkers of dairy fat consumption are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to new research published today in PLOS Medicine. The study, in more than 60,000 adults, was undertaken ...

New discovery restores insulin cell function in type 2 diabetes

October 8, 2018
By blocking a protein, VDAC1, in the insulin-producing beta cells, it is possible to restore their normal function in case of type 2 diabetes. In preclinical experiments, the researchers behind a new study have also shown ...

Weight loss drug shows positive effect on diabetes

October 4, 2018
At the 2018 Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, Brigham and Women's Hospital investigators from the Thrombolysis in Myocardial Infarction (TIMI) Study Group presented diabetes-related findings from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.